As workforces around the nation adopt remote, work-from-home operating models due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic it has highlighted to many organisations the need to improve digital working methods. The new remote and distributed network (including employees, stakeholders, clients, vendors etc.) means that more than ever, the adoption and utilisation of technology is crucial for business survival and success.
Progressive leaders will now be realising benefits of their decisions far beyond their initial hopes. With existing infrastructure in place – from document automation, centralised precedent and contract storage, to digitised connectivity with the business – the challenge of change management is greatly reduced.
However, for legal services companies that haven’t yet adopted technology solutions, the current COVID-19 challenges may act as a catalyst to drive their legal teams to take the leap.
General Counsels (GCs) have to find the balance between the increasing pressures from the business: better efficiency; scaling risk management across the business; reducing time spent on ancillary work; as well as matching varying demand with dynamic support. Now, with a remote workforce, increased privacy and data concerns, and pressure from the board around economic and regulatory changes also needs to be considered.
Where previously the move to digitalise the business was driven by cost and speed, a new imperative is at play: necessity. Now legal teams need to consider how to make hard decisions at speed, in a safe and measured way.
In the coming months, many businesses will find themselves working through three phases of business operations: react, prepare and plan. Navigating these phases requires focus on different elements of the businesses operations.
React: Keeping the lights on
Over the past months, continuity has been an essential focus for many businesses, as has adapting to the new way of working. Most GCs will already have crossed this phase or are actively working through it now. Technology tools such as video conferencing, eSignature tools, digital approval processes and collaborative document editing will likely have been quickly adopted and utilised.
Prepare: Anticipate the new normal
After an initial wave of reactionary changes, businesses will quickly have to adapt to the ‘during COVID-19’ operating world. Lockdowns may well continue in some form for many months and as teams settle in, the operating model will shift from reacting to immediate issues to proactively addressing the challenges and opportunities ahead.
In this phase, legal teams should refocus on risk mitigation and managing performance and productivity. They should consider:
- cementing legal as a key presence within the business
- embedding legal oversight and input into business decisions and corporate actions
- investigating if there is an increased risk exposure from remote working: have work-arounds developed, is there a potential for an increase in data breach incidents?
- looking into ways to ensure team utilisation and productivity
- trying to set a standard of operating that the rest of the business can aspire to, and you are remembered for.
Technology and process solutions that can help mitigate the above challenges include:
- adjusting your service delivery model
- measuring productivity
- managing business risk
- building connectivity between front, middle and back offices.
A strategic combination of internal marketing, communications, and adoption of low investment productivity management tools can be the basis of a mid-term operating model.
Plan: For the future
Looking toward a post-coronavirus crisis world, legal functions should consider any structural changes that will position them for the strongest possible future state. Take this opportunity to reimagine and develop a long-term vision for your legal function – one that strengthens core operational capabilities and embeds resilience to adapt to the new economic, business and policy landscape.
When revisiting your legal technology plan and strategy, the benefit of time will allow for a more considered approach. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind:
- Look for technology providers that see you as a partner, not a ‘sale’. Software-as-a-service companies often do this well, as your successes are theirs, and customer experience is king.
- Holistic solutions that solve a range of issues are often cheaper to on-board, and the solutions they bring will inherently work well together.
- While the adoption of a solution that locks you in for life is not recommended, software companies that encourage loyalty can greatly aid adoption throughout your organisation.
- Without organisation-wide adoption, the greatest solution will remain a burden on your cost centre.
For more technologically mature legal departments, this new environment is an opportunity to drive real change. For departments that are still in the early stages of their tech journey, they may need to ride the wave to avoid being wiped out by it. By understanding what stage your business is at in the journey, you can tailor the response, manage the business’ new risk profile, and come out stronger and better placed. The current crisis has made it vital for GCs to respond in an adaptive and agile manner by harnessing technology.
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